The nominations: Actor, Original Screenplay
The film: After a night of sex and alcohol commercial airline pilot William “Whip” Whitaker (Denzel Washington) wakes in a hotel room with lovely flight attendant Katerina. After using some cocaine to get himself going, he and Katerina get dressed and then board SouthJet flight 227 to Atlanta with 102 souls onboard. Whip’s copilot Ken (Brian Geraghty) is a nervous newbie especially while watching Whip maneuver the plane through some rough turbulence during takeoff though he relaxes once the plane is put on autopilot. Whip, still hung over from his wild night secretly mixes himself a Screwdriver and takes a nap. He is jolted awake again when the plane is sent into a steep dive after a catastrophic instrument failure. In a moment of lucidity and resourcefulness, Whip rolls the plane upside down, slowing and leveling the plane though not avoiding a crash-landing that knocks him unconscious. He wakes up in a hospital with a few injuries to his old friend Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) who is actually there as a rep for the airline pilot’s union. An NTSB official arrives to take Whip’s statement; he learns that ninety-six survived though his copilot Ken was put into a coma and the flight attendant Katerina is dead.
One night while sneaking a cigarette in the hospital stairwell, Whip meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly) who is recovering from a heroine overdose; after a friendly conversation he promises to visit her after they leave the hospital. The next day, Whip’s friend and dealer Harling Mays (John Goodman) brings him something’s from his apartment before sneaking him off to his father’s old farmhouse to avoid a ravenous and curious media.
Whip goes to meet Charlie for lunch and is introduced to attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) who informs Whip that his toxicology screening showed that he was intoxicated during the accident, insinuating charges that could get Whip sent to prison for a long time. Lang promises to make the test go away on technical grounds, but Whip storms off and can thing of nowhere to go except to visit Nicole. They bond over their desires to get clean of their vices and for an intimate relationship. But while Whip’s presence only inspires Nicole to keep straight, Whip’s guilt only escalates over the six deaths from the crash as well as having issues with being the absent father and dealing with a frustrated ex-wife and teenage son.
[SPOILERS] The night before the hearing, Whip sits alone in his hotel room clean of alcohol and resolved to go into the hearing level headed as to keep himself out of trouble. But as the door to the neighboring room is somehow unlocked, Whip stumbles upon the min-bar and gorges himself. Charlie and Lang find him the next morning in a slobbering stupor, knowing there is only one way to get him straight in a hurry. They call Harling, who brings Whip coke whip does level him out. At the hearing, Whip gets through lead investigator Ellen Block’s (Melissa Leo) question, who reveals the plane did indeed crash from mechanical failure and not pilot error. But Whip’s guilt gets the better of him when questioned about Katerina’s death and her positive toxicology report, and he confesses to being an alcoholic and is sent to jail. It is there that he is able to resolve his issues and make amends with his estranged son
The odds: Addiction is such an itchy and painful thing to watch on screen made all the more so when channeled with multifaceted pathos by an unquestionably great actor, made even, even more so when the screenwriter fashions an intense and, in the case of Flight, unique chain of events to confront the tragic protagonist. After last years harrowing addiction drama Shame starring Michael Fassbender in a brilliant, once-in-a-lifetime performance as a closeted sex addict, I wasn’t sure that another blissfully uncomfortable addiction film would come along any time soon to top it, if ever. The spin put in the advertisements for Flight was genius, making it look like in the trailer that it was a fantastic story about a brave pilot struggling with survivor’s guilt. Certainly the shining moments of writer John Gatins script is that it never is what it appears to be, having written something so mindful, intense, and enrapturing that you get lost and therefore never see anything coming, and yet he never misses a chance to be soulful which is a quality lacking in stories like this. But the best of all his skill comes with the construction of the narrative. Throughout the film the story follows the basic philosophies of Absurdist drama, that is to say its characters struggle in futility against their fate and accomplish nothing, ending up right where they began. Washington’s tortured pilot Whip fights his alcohol and cocaine in earnest, his body aching for more while his conscience fights against it. He wins some battles and loses others on the path to redemption, but at the hearing about his role in the plane crash and the deaths onboard, he crumbles, attacking the mini-bar and calling his dealer to get his hit of coke. Only instead of letting his demons wins, he confesses to being and alcoholic and a drug addict and is cooperatively hauled off to jail. With a distinguished veteran actor like Washington playing such a character and producing an outstanding performance while guided by director Robert Zemeckis who is famous for creating great movies around singular men as with Cast Away and Forrest Gump, there was nothing but greatness to expect from Flight except to be surprised by just how great.